"There's Nothing to Be Scared Of": Malala Yousafzai Reminds Us Why She’s a Feminist Hero

"Essay deadlines... those are currently keeping me at night"

Malala Yousafzai named UN Messenger of Peace at the United Nations Headquarters, New York, USA - 10 Apr 2017

Malala Yousafzai was named United Nations Messenger of Peace in April 2017 (Photo: Broadimage/REX/Shutterstock)

Malala Yousafzai isn’t afraid.

That point was made clear last night. A year after she became an honorary Canadian citizen in Ottawa—the youngest person ever to be named as such—Yousafzai was back in Canada, this time in Toronto, where the young activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner sat in conversation with Sophie Grégoire Trudeau as part of a fundraising gala for the Malala Fund and girls’ education hosted by Islamic Relief Canada.

Nearly five years ago, Yousafzai was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman for advocating for the rights of girls. She was 15 at the time, returning home from school. “That was probably one of the biggest mistakes they ever made,” she told the rapt crowd before her. A move meant to snuff out her light only helped it burn brighter. After fighting through multiple surgeries and rehab, she graduated from high school. Today, at 20, she’s studying philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford University.

Grégoire Trudeau, a long-time advocate for women’s issues, spoke with Yousafzai about her work to help more girls access education. But it was her response to one pointed question that really stood out.

“Are you fearful?” asked Grégoire Trudeau, likely wanting Yousafzai to talk about her work as a high-profile activist following the shooting. Yousafzai’s response was unexpected.

“I am fearful, yes—of my essay deadlines. Those are currently keeping me up night,” she said, laughing the way any other 20-year-old would about an ambitious course load. “And my mom, sometimes, she tells me off.”

There was a sigh of relief among the crowd, but Grégoire Trudeau pressed to see if there was anything else that frightens her. She did, after all, survive a horrific attack. But Yousafzai remains undaunted. “There is nothing to be scared of,” she said.

Case in point: this past March, Yousafzai visited her hometown in Pakistan’s Swat Valley for the first time since the shooting.

“It was important for me,” she told the Toronto crowd. “I didn’t leave by choice.” She continued on to describe her return to Pakistan. “It was like the air was hugging me,” she said. “It was the most beautiful time of my life… I’m still asking myself if it was all a dream.”


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